1980 - 1989: The Fall of Berlin Wall Video

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  • 0:02 Europe in the Eighties
  • 0:39 Expansion
  • 2:18 Single European Act
  • 4:33 Fall of the Berlin Wall
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the developments of the European Economic Community (today's European Union) during the 1980s and the questions it was confronted with by the fall of communism.

Europe in the Eighties

Do you have someone in your life that you consider your own personal 'rock?' No matter what happens, be it graduations, the birth of a niece or nephew, or the death of a loved one, he or she always seems to remain calm, cool, and collected?

In the 1980s the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner to today's European Union (EU), was a lot like Europe's 'rock.' As the protests against communism erupted across Eastern Europe, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and social unrest exploded in the Balkans, the member states of the EU continued their incremental progress toward greater European integration and economic growth for all.


One of the first things the EEC did in the 1980s was admit new members. The nine member states - France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark - welcomed their tenth member on January 1, 1981: Greece. Five years later, the two Iberian nations, Spain and Portugal, also joined. These three nations are unique in that they were all emerging from periods of dictatorial and/or fascist rule.

For example, Francisco Franco had ruled in Spain since the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s until his death in 1975. All three countries instituted representative democracies in the aftermath, and all three hoped that admission into a pan-European economic partnership would help solidify their democracies. After all, with EEC membership in hand, it would now be in the interest of all EEC members that the remaining fascist elements in these three countries never came to power again.

Not all EEC nations were happy with further expansion. Several commentators, including French President Francois Mitterand, worried that the admission of weaker economies like Spain, Portugal and Greece might do overall harm to the EEC's trade balance.

The Spanish and Portuguese currencies, for instance, were worth far less than was allowed under the EEC system, which fixed the currencies of member states to each other. Special provisions had to be made in 1989, when both currencies were admitted to the EEC's exchange-rate mechanism system; the Spanish peseta and Portuguese escudo were allowed to fluctuate up to six percent above or below other currencies, rather than the 2.25% the exchange-rate mechanism required of other nation's currencies.

Single European Act

By the mid-1980s, three decades of concerted efforts at integrating various sectors of the EEC's member states' economies had resulted in an interconnectedness between national economies unrivaled elsewhere in the world. In addition to the currency controls just discussed, food production and prices were managed across all countries centrally by the EEC, and nuclear energy across the region was managed by a single organization, EURATOM.

Additionally, there were no tariffs between the member states and very few on international imports. Nonetheless, by the mid-1980s the EEC concluded that goods and people were not moving across borders enough to foster the prosperity of the entire Eurozone, and transfer payments between nations that had been set up in the 1970s were not enough to eliminate the imbalance.

As a result, the EEC member states created the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986, meant to revise the late 1950s' Treaties of Rome, which had originally founded the organization. The SEA expanded the roles and areas of governance which the EEC had control over, including into important fields like scientific research and development. This included the 'Esprit' program, which actually began two years before the SEA took effect. Its chief role was to use European funds to foster interesting scientific and technological projects, especially in information technology, throughout the Eurozone.

However, the SEA's main goal was to encourage further economic activity and migration between EEC countries and create a common, internal market by the early 1990s. The SEA's lofty goal was to complete the internal market which earlier reforms, such as the removal of tariffs, had initiated. It did this mainly through expanding the jurisdiction and authority of central EEC institutions like the European Parliament.

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